When the Ravens collide with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, could this rank as one of the most anticipated regular-season home games in the team's 13-year history?
Whether the motivation is a bounty or the AFC North title, few regular-season home games have combined the personal bad blood and playoff implications like this grudge match.
"It's pretty appropriate that the two best teams in the division will be playing for the division championship," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said yesterday. "It's exciting to be a part of it, and our players have earned it."
If the Steelers (10-3) win, they would clinch the division title because it would give them a two-game lead with two regular-season games remaining. Even if the Ravens and Pittsburgh would finish with the same records, the Steelers would own the first tiebreaker (sweeping the head-to-head meetings).
If the Ravens (9-4) win, they would tie Pittsburgh atop the AFC North, but they would still need help in the final two weeks to capture the division.
Even if the Steelers lose to the Ravens, they could take the division by winning their final two games (at the Tennessee Titans and home against the Cleveland Browns). That would give Pittsburgh the AFC North title by virtue of a better conference record.
"We want to be division champs. We want to be champions," Harbaugh said. "That's something every team in the division definitely plays for, so we're not backing down from the fact that's our goal.
"The Steelers stand between us and the division championship."
Harbaugh said he doesn't care whether his players consider the playoff scenarios, but he won't discuss them in front of his team.
"It's really not pertinent to what we have to get done," Harbaugh said. "We have to win, just like everybody else. What have we done? We've earned the right to play one more meaningful game in December. That's something to be proud of."
A look at the Ravens' five most-anticipated regular-season home games:
1. First game in Ravens history
When: : Sept. 1, 1996
Story line: : The NFL returned to Baltimore after 13 years when the Ravens played their first game after relocating from Cleveland.
Did it live up to expectations? : It was a thrilling start for the Ravens, who scored the final 12 points to deliver a 19-14 comeback victory against the Oakland Raiders at Memorial Stadium. Earnest Byner's 1-yard plunge midway through the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winning touchdown.
2. Colts return to Baltimore
When: : Nov. 29, 1998
Story line: : It was an emotional day for this city's fans as the Colts played their first game in Baltimore since moving in March 1984.
Did it live up to expectations? : The Ravens came through for the fans by scoring 25 points in the second half and overcoming two 14-point deficits to pull out a wild, 38-31 victory. Priest Holmes ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns in the first big game at Baltimore's new downtown stadium.
3. Statement game against the Jaguars
When: : Sept. 10, 2000
Story line: : The Ravens knew they had to end Jacksonville's dominance - the Jaguars had won all eight meetings - to prove they were a power player in the AFC Central.
Did it live up to expectations? : This was one of the most dramatic home games in Ravens history. Tony Banks threw a career-high five touchdowns, including a game-winning, 29-yard scoring strike to Shannon Sharpe with 41 seconds left. The Ravens overcame a 17-0 deficit and a monster game from Jaguars receiver Jimmy Smith (291 yards receiving and three touchdowns).
4. Fighting the Steelers for the division
When: : Dec. 16, 2001
Story line: : The Ravens, who entered with an 8-4 record, were looking to stay in the hunt for their first division title against the Steelers (10-2).
Did it live up to expectations? : The Ravens could only grimace as the Steelers clinched the AFC Central on Baltimore's home turf with a 26-21 win. Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart had one of the best games of his career, completing 20 of 31 passes for 333 yards and two touchdowns.
5. Redskins come to Baltimore
When: : Sunday
Story line: : The dreaded neighbors to the south played their first regular-season game against the Ravens in Baltimore.
Did it live up to expectations? : The Ravens didn't disappoint a national television audience and the largest crowd in team history. Free safety Ed Reed forced two turnovers in the first quarter as the Ravens jumped out to a 14-0 lead. When the Redskins closed to 17-10, Joe Flacco hit Derrick Mason for a 28-yard touchdown.
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STEELERS (10-3)@RAVENS (9-4) Sunday, 4:15 p.m. TV: Chs. 13,9 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 1 1/2